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Early Life and Education

Write a biography on Obafemi Awolowo, a Nigerian patriarch.

Obafemi Awolowo was a leader and politician from Nigeria. He was also a Yoruba Chief. He was a native of Ikenne, Ogun State, Nigeria. He started as a regional political leader, as was the case with most other pre-independence contemporaries. He is considered as the founding father of Nigeria, and he had found in a number of organizations which included the Egbe Omo Oduduwa Trade Unions Congress of Nigeria as well as the political party named the Action Group. Awolowo was an active journalist and as a young man, he was also a trade unionist. He had edited The Nigerian Worker and some other publications. He also organized the Nigerian Produce Traders Association. He also acted as the secretary of Nigerian Motor Transport Union. Awolowo had graduated after completing his Bachelor of Commerce degree in Nigeria. Then he moved on to London to get a law degree. Awolowo was also a part of the Nigerian delegation that has taken part in the Constitutional talks that took place in London in 1957. Another achievement was that he was the first premiere of Western Region according to the parliamentary system of Nigeria from 1954 to 1960. Later on, in the federal parliament to the Balewa government, Awolowo was the official leader of opposition from 1960 to 1963. He was put in jail on a charge of sedition in 1963. Later on, in 1967, he was pardoned and released from jail by the military government (Makinde and Obafemi, 2002). He became the finance minister from 1967 to 1971. He also unsuccessfully contested the presidential elections in 1979 and 1983. It was only in 1993 that the democracy had been restored in Nigeria after the 1966 coup.

They start of the military regime in Nigeria was described as Awalowo as a Nigeria entering into a "dismal tunnel". He was aware of the challenge to hold the competing regions of Nigeria together as well as keeping the tribes under single federal system, which was considered to be the largest challenge for the newly born nation-state. He was in favor of local autonomy that was based on the ethno-linguistic identity of different regions. He also favored that the larger reasons should be split into smaller states (Meredith, 2005). Since then, 36 states have been created in Nigeria. The impact of the policies and ideas of Awolowo can even be seen today, particularly in the South, where it is considered that education and welfare programs play an important role in the task of creating citizens who can discharge their responsibilities of self-governance by taking active part in civil society (Dudley, 1978). As in this case, rivalries and competing interests are involved, generally the result of the issue of how the center has distributed the resources, equitable and just systems should be present in Nigeria that can also make sure the, the government is vested in all the persons and not only in elite persons (Adegbesan, 1988). In this way, Awolowo is considered as the founding father of the nation, and his legacy needs to be examined (Rotberg, 2004).

Activism and Political Career

The birth of Obafemi Awolowo took place in Ikenne, in Western Nigeria. His father was a farmer and he was educated at the church schools. Awolowo was working as an assistant teacher before it decided to go to Wesley College in Ibanadan as he wanted to get training as an educator. From there, he graduated in 1927. On the religious side, he was a Wesleyan Methodist. He joined a clerical position in the college in 1932 (Adekola, 2002). Later on, in 1934, he went into creating business and started to work for the Motor Transporter and the Produce Trader. This was a time when he also started to write articles for newspapers (Awolowo, 1981). He was behind the foundation of Nigerian Produce Traders Association. Similarly, he was also acting as the editor of The Nigerian Worker. Gradually, he also assumed the charge as the secretary of Nigerian Motor Transport Union. In 1937, he got married to Hannah Idowu Dideolu and the couple had three daughters and two sons.

Awolowo had organized a successful strike in 1937. This strike was organized to oppose the "inequitable and unjust" colonial legislations. He was playing and a key role in the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) by the early 1940s (Makinde, 2007). He became the branch secretary of the NYM in Ibadan in 1940. In the same way, he also started an agitation in 1942 due to which reforms took place in the Ibadan Native Authority Advisory Board (Shillington, 2005). Similarly, he also co-founded the Trades Union Congress in Nigeria in 1943. He also organized a large-scale protest in 1944 to oppose the ban on the export of palm kernel. As a result of this ground level activism, the common people were convinced that they could face the British and even win (Ogunmodede, 1986). They also started to believe that they can challenge the colonial system in Africa as was done in India and the independence struggle of India but behind these civil disobedience tactics adopted by Awoolowo (Sklar, 2004). He achieved a bachelor of commerce degree in 1944, being an external student from the London University. He went to London in 1944 to study law. When he was in London, he took part in founding the Egbe Omo Oduduwa (it was a society of the descendents of Oduduwa, who were the ancestors of people speaking Yoruba). The main purpose of this organization is to study and to preserve the culture of the Yoruba (Simpson, 2006). This organization was launched in 1948 in Lagos (Duffy, J. and Manners (eds.). 1961). On November 18, 1946, Owolowo had qualified as a barrister at the Inner Temple and he returned to Nigeria. He had established a significant legal practice. Between 1947 and 1951 Owolowo worked as an advocate and a solicitor in the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Legacy and Impact

Awolowo took his last breath on May 9, 1987 in his hometown, Ikenne.

The politics of Awolowo: He had co-founded the action group in 1950 in the form of the political wing of Egbe Omo Oduduwa. This was mainly based in the Western Region, which was dominated by the Yoruba (Nolte, 2009). He was also elected to the assembly and he became the Minister of local Government in 1951 and remained in this position until 1954. During 1952 and 53, Awolowo undertook extensive travels and he visited Egypt, Ceylon, Pakistan and India. In these countries he discussed anticolonial struggle and self-determination (Weiner and Ergun, 1987). He particularly admired Jawaharlal Nehru. He also, published his autobiography, in the newspaper of the Action Group, The Tribune that had been founded by him in 1949 (Trask, 2004).

After the constitutional changes that were introduced in 1954, Awolowo became the first Premiere of Eastern Region. Similarly in this year, he was also appointed the honorary Chief of the Yoruba. He had also taken part in the Constitutional talks that had taken place in London and Ghana in 1953, 57 and 58. This was the time when he also went to the United States, Italy, Germany and Japan. These visits were undertaken with a view to encourage trade relations with these countries (Makinde, 2009). On the eve of independence, in 1959, he resigned from Premiership with a view to take part in elections for the Federal assembly. Samuel Akintola became the opinion (Adebayo, 1988). The Hausa Fulani People's Congress had won the elections, along with the Eastern national Council of Nigeria (Richard, 2008). A Northern politician, Balewa became the Prime Minister of the country and Awolowo took charge as the official leader of opposition (Nwanwene, 1970).

The policies of Awolowo: he had always believed that the resources of Nigeria should be generalized into education and the development of state led infrastructure. A controversy is also erupted when Awolowo had introduced free primary education at the considerable cost him all the Western region and he also established free television service in Africa (Zachernuk, 1988). In the same way, he expanded the electrification projects by using the income from highly profitable cocoa export industry (Ogunmodede, 1986). Even if he was very popular in the Western Nigeria, among the Yoruba, he became unpopular with the supposedly largest political bloc of the nation (the Northern, Muslim, Northern People’s Congress) as a result of his left leanings. A lot of Nigerians were of the opinion that his policies were being dictated by the government of UK (Sklar, 1963). As compared to Nnamdi Akikwe of the NCNC, who was the first president of Nigeria in 1963, Awolowo was in favor of autonomy that was based on ethno-linguistic identity (Shillington, 2005).

Politics of Awolowo

Western Nigeria crisis: there were serious disagreement between Awolowo and Akintola regarding the way the Western region should be run. As a result, Akintola made an alliance with the NPC federal government, which was led by Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. However, there were many persons in the Akintola's faction who were of the opinion that the preeminent position in business was being lost by the Yorubas and also the administration to Igbos due to the decision made by the NCNC to take part in the ruling coalition (Oke, Olatunji, Adebayo and Femi, (eds.). 2009). On the other hand, the opinion of Awolowo was that much more can be achieved by winning the next election without forming a coalition with the NCP. Some of the persons who were in favor of a partnership with the NCP were Muslim, and the others were "anti-Awolowo". The result was that accusations were made by each region against the others that they had received unfair share in jobs and resources (Olufemi, 1986). An unsuccessful attempt was made to replace Akintola when his faction disrupted the assembly proceedings, and one member was even going to club the speaker. As a result of this crisis, Balewa had declared state of emergency in the Western region. He had also appointed administrator for the region (Nathaniel, 2008).

Under these circumstances, the Nigerian National Democratic Party was formed by Akintola. This newly formed by the easily defeated the Action Group remnant in the elections that took place subsequently even if Awolowo commonly believed that the elections were rigged (Ikelegbe, 1988). In 1962, Awolowo and many other persons were charged by the government and after a trial that went on for 11 months, they were jailed for conspiring with some Ghanians including Kwame Nkrumah for overthrowing the government (Rotberg, 2004). The sentence was imprisoned for 10 years. In a book written by him in 1966, Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution, he had defended federalism but at the same time, he had also recommended that 18 smaller states should be created that can replace the regions (Meredith, 2005).

The Action Group remnants took part in the national elections in 1965 and had entered into an alliance with mainly Igbo and south-eastern national Council of Nigeria, as well as the NCNC. The elections were won by the NPC-NNDP even while there were accusations of fraud and Balewa remained the Prime Minister of the country. The result was that violent riots took place in many parts of the Western region (Olufemi, 1991). Major three political parties were dominated by various ethnic groups and effectively they were regional parties that were taking part in the national elections. The seats in the national assembly were in proportion to the population of these regions. As the North had the highest population, it was also guaranteed to win more seats. In the Western and Eastern regions, there was a suspicion that NCP had given unfair advantages to the North and in this region; the oil revenue was also produced (Weiner and Özbudun, 1987).

Policies of Awolowo

The aftermath of these elections included a military coup led by the Igbo on January 15, 1966. In this coup, the Prime Minister had been killed, and also Ahmadau Bello, the Premier of the Northern Region. After this military coup, there was a counter coup on January 16, 1966. This resulted in the establishment of a national military government. A third coup took place on July 29, which overthrew this government itself. Pardon was given to Chief Awolowo and he was released from prison by the coup leaders (Olufemi, 2004). Awolowo tried to broker a peace agreement when civil wars started on the issue of the secession of the Eastern Region (Sklar, 2004).

After the failure of the limitations, Awolowo was made the finance minister in the government of Nigeria. He also gives approval when 12 Statesville established by the government in 1967. However, he was not pleased because this was not done on the basis of ethnolinguistic cohesiveness. In the book written by him in 1967, The People's Republic, he had favored federalism, socialism and democracy. According to him, all these are necessary for creating a prosperous and stable Nigeria (Awolowo and 'Biodun, 1987).

He resigned from his post after a year of the end of the war. The reason was that the realized that they had very little influence on the policies made by the government and also due to the reason that he had continuously opposed the military rule. After many years of private practice as an attorney, Awolowo founded the Unity Party of Nigeria in 1979. This party was founded as the successor of the Action Group. It took part in the presidential elections that were held in 1979. However, he lost the elections to Alhaji Shehu Shagari by nearly 400,000 votes as the elections were heavily rigged. He again took part in the presidential elections in 1983. This time he lost to Shagari by nearly 4,000,000 votes. However, Awolowo considered that the elections were fraudulent. However in the Yoruba dominated areas, his party did well (Adegbola and Bankole, 1997).

The legacy of Awolowo: the University of Ife has been rechristened as Obafemi Awolowo University in the memory of the leader. His portrait can be found on one hundred naira, the currency notes of Nigeria. The legacy of religion is also honored by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation. He has been described by the experts as the most cherished philosopher and political thinker of Africa. It has also been mentioned as the memorial website that he was a “sage and a philosopher king”.

Awolowo also gets the credit for building the first stadium in West Africa, as well as the first television station in Africa. His civil service is considered as the best in Africa and that time. He is also known for introducing free healthcare in the Western region in the age of 18. He introduced free and compulsory basic education in Western Nigeria. While in the past, the currency of Nigeria was known as the Nigerian Pound but he gave it the name of Naira. In his position as the Premier of Western Nigeria, he had achieved high distinction in public affairs management but at the same time, he was also observed the due to the lack of financial clout of power with the central government. That is perhaps the main reason due to which he made the decision to contest the national elections.

It has been described as the best President Nigeria ever had and his name is still invoked while opposing autocratic and military rule.


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